DaBaby represents a departure from the era of the self-serious, brooding, and borderline self-righteous rapper to something more, well, fun.
This past weekend, North Carolina rapper DaBaby finally made his long-awaited debut on Saturday Night Live and boy… what a debut it was. On top of the social media reception being overwhelmingly positive, most of the comments were about his contagious smile, his irresistible charm, AND his fantastic performance—which was filled with drama, choreography, a whole story-line, and most importantly? Theatrics!
When I think about the DaBaby and see all the well-deserved praise he’s getting, a couple of things come to mind.
There’s his wonderful relationship as “work husband” with Houston superstar Meg Thee Stallion, their “Cash Sh*t” song, and his tendency to go all-out by sliding across the floor when they perform it together. There’s also his highly recognizable smile—wide and with all his teeth on display. And if you’ve been keeping up with his social media, you know that he routinely loves to post delightful videos where he’s either doing a pop-up with fans in places like D.C., trading witty banter with his precious daughter, or making an appearance at some Nigerian party for one of his friends.
In short, DaBaby is having the time of his goddamn life.
It’s been interesting to watch. His sophomore album, KIRK, marked DaBaby’s official re-introduction to the business (he released his debut album Baby on Baby back in March), but make no mistake, the North Carolina rapper has had an astonishing year and said album only begins to scratch at the surface of it… particularly because it has been a very odd two years for hip hop/rap, especially if you look at its veterans. As The Atlantic put it, Jay Z is a bit busy selling his soul to the NFL (an organization he previously denounced), Nicki Minaj has retired (or has she?), and Kanye West is… being Kanye. Parallel to these events is the rise of new blood like the DaBaby, rap “classmates” Meg Thee Stallion and Rico Nasty, as well as other artists like The City Girls, Cardi B, and Lil Nas X. And while Lil Nas X is the most exciting outlier here, (seeing as he legitimately went from living meme to a multi-platinum rapper) all of these new artists are bringing something fresh, exciting, but vaguely familiar to the table.
For the DaBaby, I’d argue that he (and Meg) represents a departure from the era of the self-serious, brooding, and borderline self-righteous rapper to something more, well, fun. And what do I mean by “fun”? Maybe it’s his huge personality and his unapologetic approach to just having a freaking blast while laying down a verse. Or the fact that you can feel the undercurrent of laughter in many of his songs. Or his distinct flow and glib lyrics that always jump ahead of the beat. Or his tendency to use all of these things for risqué verses that will either make you chuckle or make you clutch your pearls. Or maybe, perhaps, it’s his undeniable bravado and braggadocio that puts out this “yeah, I’m the sh-t and I know it” vibe.
And where have we seen such unrepentant swagger before, you ask? It’s most certainly a throwback to a sound that cemented itself at the turn of the 21st century and brings rappers like Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, and most importantly, Ludacris to mind. These are rappers who knew how to have a damn good time and seemed to be able to produce a hit at the drop of a hat because of it.
DaBaby aggressively reminds me of Ludacris in particular, in that besides them both being able to sniff out hits and be legitimately hilarious in song, both artists are genuinely happy to be collaborating and creating with their fellow artists (do you remember how many songs, regardless of genre, would have a “ft. Ludacris” in them? I do). In addition to this, while there’s continued debate about whether Ludacris has an album that is an indisputable “classic”, the Atlanta rapper was able to thrive in the 2000s thanks to his chain of back-to-back hits like “Stand Up”, “Move B-tch”, and “Money Maker”—which all yielded “top-10 records, including two no. 1s, five platinum albums, and eight platinum singles”. This made it so that Luda become one of the decade’s most popular and most consistent rappers, and eventually paved the way for his crossover success into other realms of entertainment (which [in]famously includes Crash and The Fast and the Furious franchise).
DaBaby is poised to mirror such success and if you still think this comparison is unwarranted, you should look no further than his take on nonsensically absurdist humor when it comes to visuals—which is on par with Luda’s. Whereas Busta and Missy’s avant-garde visuals pushed the boundaries of music video artistry, Luda’s visual scope always existed in a liminal space that took the familiar and made it bonkers. This was accomplished via CGI and side-splitting body-morphing that made its way into some of his more notable videos like “Rollout” (where he gives himself a big head and a small body), “Stand Up” (where he literally has the body of a baby), and “Get Back” (where he has giant hands).
DaBaby does something similar with (what is my favorite video of his thus far) “Walker Texas Ranger”. The Charlotte-born rapper takes us back to the good ol’ Wild West and reminds us not only why we like these movies but also reminds us how completely farcical they are. Obvious green screen effects and terribly rendered CGI abound and they are coupled with amusing finger guns, an ax that randomly appears out of nowhere, a black and white filter that closes out the video, and a blurred out penis that would make The Sims franchise proud and suggests that the DaBaby is packing packing when it comes to, ahem, “guns”. It’s a wonderful blend of some classic blaxploitation and Western tropes (think John Wayne without the virulent racism, oop) and suggests that he’s not only trying to put the “fun” back in music videos but also trying to put the “fun” back in rap.
And boy, he is off to a great start.